Of this “racing season”.
And of this ultra distance madness that has been consuming my brain for the last three years and my life for the past six months. It’s time for some self reflection, and since I’m too lazy to go to therapy, you guys get to reap the rewards of the aftermath.
First off, I want to definitely admit openly and aggressively that I really haven’t been myself since GAP Trestles Marathon. What was intended to be my last long training run for Sinnemahone, proof that I could hit those long miles, my first marathon distance, etc… actually was a catalyst for the very real realization that I am not into running marathons.
Which in turn made me realize that if I wasn’t really into running marathons, I probably wasn’t going to be into running ultra marathons. Obviously.
So, instead of just having a happy taper, enjoying some fall running, and just taking things as they come – I basically spent the last three weeks in a purgatory of dread. Maybe I would not run this race at all. Work stress had been piling up a little, the weather change hit me hard, I had a nagging cold for awhile… basically the wheels just started falling off.
Then… I ran Green Monster 25k last Sunday.
This is the third year I’ve run this race. Hands down my favorite fall trail race. It never fails to be the perfect medicine for busting me out of a funk. I pulled off a 28 minute course PR from last year. Confidence restored, I felt ready to take on that 50k the following week.
Until about Tuesday. Once again, I suddenly started losing interest. Another stressful work week. I start panicking about “am I dedicating way too many of my resources to this hobby instead of being an adult?”. It’s totally normal, I know, taper sadness and whatnot, but I went into this race on Saturday quitting before I even started.
So yes. 50k day comes along. I am running on 4 hours of sleep that happened before midnight. I go into work. I do my work. I get home at 4am. Instead of trying to catch a nap I just pump as much coffee into me as possible. Breakfast isn’t working. I am not tired, but I don’t feel rested.
The cold air feels good, though. My friends are chipper as hell and it gets me in the mood. Maybe this is going to be a good day after all. The goal was to go for 4.5 miles an hour for the duration of the 33.
The first few miles are on the road/fire roads. Uphill. It’s all good. Until it’s not. By the time the 25k and the 50k trails split, I have a nagging in my right hip that I’ve never felt before. I am pacing with some dude and I want to keep him in my sight because I know there’s only 8 of us running the 50k, and it’s going to be a lonely day if I don’t at least have one human being nearby.
Hip nag doesn’t go away but we are on some single track and it’s a lot softer, so I can shut it down for a little bit. I hit mile 10 under 2 hours, I’m feeling boosted, this is going better than expected.
Then mile 12 rolls around. Which is basically 200 feet hill repeats through mile 16 up and down a gas line. There’s mud and cold water at the bottom. It starts snowing. Dude in front of me keeps getting a little bit further ahead every hill and then I lose him.
Mile 16 I start getting jovial/delirious. I start thinking about how running an ultra is like eating magic mushrooms and that you don’t realize until about 4 hours into it that maybe it isn’t the best idea. I start catching branches with my shoes and go ass over teakettle a few times. I’m not hurt, but at about mile 19 I knew I needed a miracle to pull me through the next 14 miles because my brain was done.
That miracle never came. Instead I was delivered into a chunk of trail that wasn’t really trail but instead left me feeling like I was lumbering around without purpose. So many rocks covered in wet leaves. About a million too many creek crossings.
In fact, I fell into a creek at about mile 24 or 25. I sat there for a good minute or two until I canned the histrionics.
I was soaking wet and freezing. I had hyper extended my knee in the chaos. I was gimping around alone, with no idea where the next aid station was going to be. This was where I quit unofficially.
I had the luxury of over 2 miles of this. Let me tell you, there was no given point in that half an hour (yikes and yuck) where I tried to talk myself into finishing the race. The only thing I was trying to do was talk myself OUT of laying down and taking a nap in a pile of rocks.
When I came up on that aid station, there were tears in my eyes.
“How do I get out?” I say.
Everyone laughs. They think I’m kidding. I mean, obviously… who quits an ultra with 6 miles to go?
This girl does, apparently.
So, I get a ride back to the finish line from a guy who thanked me about 100 times for giving him the opportunity to get out of the cold for a little bit. I am heading to my car, when I hear…
“HEY! YOUR FRIEND JUST CAME LOOKING FOR YOU!!”
Wouldn’t you know, my dear friend Jen who was my summer long training partner and Megatransect partner in crime planned on surprising me and running me in the last 6 miles. Apparently she missed me by about 4 minutes. I tried to explain to her that this is what happens when people do nice things for me, but I was too busy crying in my car.
So what do I have to say about my first official DNF?
Was I undertrained? No. I put in the time, and I feel really confident that my body was ready for this.
Was the course too hard? No. It was actually a really beautiful course. It was tougher/more technical than I expected, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t run or trained on before.
Where did I go wrong? It was all mental. My head wasn’t in it. My heart wasn’t in it. I quit before I started. When you toe the start line thinking “I can’t wait to get this over with,” you know it’s going to be a crap day. Little things become big things. You get clumsy and you get resentful.
I’m really happy to say that I’m hanging up my ultra shoes for a good long time now. Considering I technically ran three in just as many months (Mega, GAP, and hey-o I hit 27.4 before I dropped yesterday), I don’t need to be reminded again that distances that long aren’t really my jam.
The good news is, this still hasn’t turned me off from running in general. In fact, I’m looking forward to taking a nice solid block through the new year to work on my speed and my strength and getting my weight under control. Next year, I want to focus on fast trail half marathons and 25ks, because I actually enjoy them. I might have broken down yesterday, but it was a good thing…
I maybe felt defeated for a solid two hours, but today I woke up feeling rejuvenated, excited, and surprisingly not in any pain.
So yes, this is the end of that phase, but now it’s on to the next adventure. Sometimes you have to quit the things that aren’t serving you. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you realize what those things are. I am totally cool with this season as a whole, even going out on this note. Until next time…